Date: 02/11/2021 | Duration: 00:30:36

Motivation can be defined as a desire or willingness to do something, but would you be able to tell that your team or an individual is struggling with motivation? Many of us may be feeling tired, overloaded and overworked and while the monotony of heading to the kitchen table can equally take its toll, what is the cost of doing nothing when it comes to tackling the challenges of low motivation?

Join our podcast presenter Nigel Cassidy, Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer at People and Transformational HR (PTHR), Chris Shambrook, Director at PlanetK2 and Sally Hopper, HR Director at Hertfordshire County Council, as we explore the art of motivation and how people leaders and managers can help stimulate and reinvigorate their workforce.

Nigel Cassidy: Lacking motivation? Colleagues tired, overloaded, hardly bothered to use their hard-won skills and experience? Here’s ideas to get back that lost focus, energy and commitment.

It’s those days when you really don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and things go downhill from there. Motivation is our desire or willingness to do things, and let’s face it, after two testing years, many feel ground down by the physical and mental challenges that have come with the pandemic. Everything from juggling work, home life and responsibilities for others’ safety to the emotional impact of isolation or loss. So how can we spot and reverse any lack of motivation which is holding our people and organisations back?

Well, here’s inspiration from firstly a coach, author, renowned blogger and all round cheerleader for the people professional. He’s the founder of People and Transformational HR Limited, and advisor to the CIPD, Perry Timms. Hello.

Perry Timms: Hello there, Nigel. Glad to be here, thank you. 

NC: Well, warming up in the corner, we’ve no less than a man who was a long established consultant to the GB rowing team, who helped turn it into a real medal winning machine, and with plenty of experience now helping business help learn some of the lessons from top notch sport, it’s Chris Shambrook. Hello.

Chris Shambrook: Good morning, a pleasure to be here as well.

NC: And keeping it real, somebody who’s helped her teams cope, adapt and succeed in maintaining service to their public, we have Sally Hopper, Assistant Director of HR at Hertfordshire County Council. Hello.

Sally Hopper: Hi, Nigel. Good to be here.

NC: So, Sally, let’s start with you and your experience. I wonder what aspects of work and home life would you say have most caused a lack of motivation, you know either with your people or generally?

SH: So I think when we went into the pandemic, none of us could foresee how long, just how long we’d be working from home, and, or working remotely or in difficult circumstances, and so I think that keeping the motivation going has been a definite challenge, and we really have had to rethink the way we work and the way we interact and try and keep people’s spirits up through a really difficult time, Nigel.

NC: Of course, people have been ground down through all kinds of things, haven’t they, Perry Timms? And not just working from home, and a lot of us have had to do that some or all of the time, some soldiering on out with the public maybe at risk, others maybe unsupervised when they’re not used to that.

PT: So, I’m a big fan of autonomous and self managed ways of working, so I think we’ve had to very quickly adapt to that, but at, to the point you make about the divide, I think it’s been incredible how we’ve put people on pedestals and called them, key workers, as heroes, and already we’re starting to see some of that romanticism dissipate. So, I think there is a challenge, isn’t there? About those people who keep the world moving by being in a place and those people who are still working as best they can, so there’s some calibration to do there for sure.

NC: Perry, in particular, what would you say are the tell-tale signs that it’s lack of motivation which is the issue?

PT: So, I think it’s where we can spot things like deadlines slipping and creative thinking is lacking. So, somebody said to me that during the pandemic, serendipity was silent, and I think that’s absolutely true. We’ve now got to program things like that and be very deliberate about them, so if we’re looking for inventive ways to tackle those challenges Sally talked about, we’re not seeing them because people aren’t quite so animated about taking those challenges on. They’re almost seeing, we’ll kind of get through today and then just pass out in bed later on at night. So innovation and all that kind of togetherness vibe, I think, is what we can notice is missing.

NC: And of course, Chris Shambrook, the UK rowing team would be nothing without motivation. So, talk us through how sports psychology helps us, just at this basic level, of actually identifying people who’ve lost their mojo, if you like.

CS: It’s interesting, because I think when we look at it from a theory perspective, we don’t wait to identify people who have lost it, we just anticipate that motivation is an ongoing challenge to maintain. So that notion that we should wait for something to disappear before we start acting is just not in the elite sport mindset, you are just constantly looking to say, how do we make this body as fit as possible? How do we make this person and support their motivation as much as possible? So it’s this proactive application of keep it in good health. Don’t wait for it to slip before we attend to it, and then we have cultures built around that, then OK, look, everyone’s job is to kind of put their hand up when they feel like it’s slipping but also put their hand up when they kind of go, I’m on fire at the moment, can I help? You know, and it becomes much more of a helpful construct rather than something to fear that is disappearing.

NC: I have heard you say Chris that an athlete wouldn’t knowingly become unfit before competing, but this does rather suggest doesn’t it, that performance management has slipped, whether it’s your own responsibility for yourself or your managers?

CS: That’s an interesting sign, actually, because where we are taking control of our own development, there is that sense of I’m engaged. So, motivation where we’ve got a high quality, a focused energy that is persistent in the face of obstacles, you know? So just even that notion of can I, am I interested in my own growth and what next? Even in these challenging circumstances, can I find something that I want to get from it? And so all of those experiences that we have just give us some insight into what’s my quality of autonomy at the moment? What’s my quality of confidence at the moment? And how connected do I feel to other people or something that, you know? And that self determination theory was Ed Deci and Richard Ryan’s work. I’d point everyone in there because it’s just the most beautifully practical way of engaging with motivation in this proactive way.

SH: Yeah, I was going to build on that and talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is nearly 80 years old in 2023.

NC: This is the idea that you need food, sleep, safety, and then things that help you belong, build your esteem and all that.

SH: Exactly, but it did make me think about where our staff were at at that time. So usually, we’re really keen to think about people’s development and self actualisation and you know, making them be the best they can be, but some of their priorities were completely disrupted in the last couple of years and that affected their motivation, and learning to live with complete uncertainty is something that’s affected people’s motivation, because just when they think, you know, oh, it’s all getting better, you know, it hasn’t always been the case.

NC: So, Perry Timms, do you think you can actually measure when motivation is the problem? Because let’s face it, it may well be because the technology people are having to use doesn’t work or management are just not reorganising their tasks to make their work more productive or more bearable if you like. So how do we know that it’s motivation is the problem? Or indeed, do we know at all where productivity slips? Maybe motivation never gets put down as the problem.

PT: I think there’s possibly some correlations that you can look at through things like evidence and data, but I think this too complex and individualised to be very guided by a dashboard or anything like that. I think this is about how we narrate our way into understanding how we’re being, so this is just --

NC: Are you saying we can’t measure it?

PT: I’m saying it’s difficult to measure a causal trail, but I think you can make correlative patterns that give you a chance to create conversations that will explore that more deeply, because I don’t think it’s as simple as anything like, you know, I report as motivated. Well, I might do today, but in an hour’s time, I might not be, so it’s a real fluctuating thing, like Chris said. I think the attention we have to bring is the agency that people have to both recognise it and correct course themselves, or as Chris said, flag it up and say, I’m on fire, I can help somebody, or I really need a conversation that’s just about what matters to me right now, because I’m struggling. So I think it’s a dialogic thing. So I don’t want us to get too hung up on data trails, I want us to sense our way into corrective action and conversation.

NC: Chris Sambrook?

CS: And so it’s, I regularly ask people at the moment, if your mood, thoughts and attitude were instantly sort of copied and pasted into everyone else’s mindset in the organisation, how worried or delighted would you be about the motivational quality that you were working in? And that, and it’s where we get that message across to people, kind of go, I probably am having an influence on how other people are thinking and feeling or vice versa. If we’re all complicit in creating this what it means to be and work here, why don’t we talk about that more? Why do we wait for an engagement survey to sort of record? We, we’ve been complicit in creating the data we’re just going to share. Let’s stop that. Let’s just keep talking about how we’re doing and what we’re going to do to make today as good as possible from whatever position we are, and that much more human approach I think will get out of this way of this need to measure.

NC: I have to say, Chris, that makes perfect sense but in the real world, Sally Hopper, things are messy, and it may well be that management, for whatever reason, cannot deliver changes, or won’t deliver changes that would actually mean that people weren’t so off if you like, to feel so badly let down or not motivated.

SH: Yeah, I think things are messy and they’re very unpredictable, and what we lost recently is everyday social, human interaction, and the ability to see how we are, you know, how one another are. And I think the role of line managers has been key in our workplace. A manager actually asking how you are and meaning it, there’s a difference, and being curious about that individual, and I think treating the individual as an individual because it’s very easy to try and measure things and make generalisations, but with motivation, there’s so much complexity going on for the individual. So a good line manager is the difference between getting somebody’s motivation levels, you know, to a better place than they perhaps are, and a bad manager who just lets it persist and the individual may have more of a decline. So the role of the line manager in motivation is very important. That being said, in the HR profession, we’ve all had to be very good at looking after our own resilience in the last few months, you know, which have been very unpredictable. So Nigel, I think it is messy, and also think that the role of the line manager shouldn’t be underestimated.

NC: Chris Shambrook, so what can line managers start doing to make progress here?

CS: Well, so I think that they can accept that it is messy, and we’re finding out how good can we be at creating a culture of good quality motivation in a non ideal set of circumstances. I regularly use the phrase that if you sound like you’re a swimmer who’s complaining they’re getting wet at work, you probably are in the wrong job. You know? You’re going to get wet. 

So management and leadership is complex, but it doesn’t mean that we should shirk away from that wonderful opportunity to see, well, how well can we bring the best of all of us within this opportunity around the complexity to give us that sense of togetherness, build confidence that we’re the people to make it simpler rather than more complex, and that we’re going to choose how we do that, and if we keep coming back to that then maybe we stop talking about the complexity and we start talking about our agency and focusing on how much we’re feeling great about what we’re doing.

NC: I’m going to go to Perry Timms, but just your analogy there about swimming made me think about Taylorism, which I must admit I’d never heard about till I just looked a couple of things up before this podcast. This is the idea that you’re just motivated by pay and threats, and that basically, most people hate their jobs. Clearly that’s not true for many people, none the less, there is a sense here maybe that there’s a certain inevitability in certain people being fed up, Perry Timms, I mean even not in a pandemic.

PT: I don’t think it’s a given. I think it’s in the design. So, I think if the way roles are designed incorporates that sense of doom and boredom, then there’s something wrong in the way that job’s designed because there’s no variety, there’s no stimulus, there’s no challenge. We do not have to roboticise work. It doesn’t have to be done. I’ve heard stories of people who are supposedly in the most menial of activities who’ve found a way to bring it to life and connect it to something bigger than them, so I just don’t buy that at all. It’s lazy design. And to your point about leaders and managers, all of a sudden, when it looked like the pandemic was starting to cessate, and we were going back into office life, lots of people in senior positions were saying, we want you back because our culture, and I thought to myself, well, when did you ever talk about culture before? Because we’ve been trying to push that door for a number of years. You keep saying bottom line performance. Now culture matters? There’s an incongruency there, they’re hijacking certain situations to get what seems to be the appropriate level of control for leaders, and it’s not about control, it’s about enabling and it’s about finding people’s North Star and lining that up through good job design. 

NC: OK, so Sally Hopper, talk a bit more about what you’ve done, because by all accounts, your authority, it’s made a reasonable job of keeping people together and putting its mission online where it probably wasn’t before and all that.

SH: Well, I think we made a good job. Why do I think that to be true is because from the very beginning, we said a few words, which was we trust you, and that’s a very powerful thing to say, and that’s a very motivational thing to say as well. So. we trusted our workforce to make the right decisions in a very complex set of managing uncertainty. So that was a very good start, and then we didn’t, we moved away from sort of generic statements and rules and policies and spoke to the workforce in the best way we could. So. we did videos. We also did lots of online interaction, where we said to people, you know, everyone is different, and almost giving people permission as well. So. giving people permission in the daytime, we’re just about to head towards the winter as we record this podcast, and we gave staff permission in the daytime to go out and have a walk. Get a bit of fresh air before it gets dark, you know, simple, but really helping people to feel motivated and not tied to a screen all day. But I think yes, speaking to the workforce in a really thoughtful way, actually. Words matter, and just giving people that sort of autonomy is a very powerful thing and it definitely, definitely helps with motivation and I think our workforce has come through the pandemic in a good way as a result of those sort of acts of kindness, you know? Kindness should never be underestimated, it’s a very powerful way of motivating people, and done well, it leads to beautiful outcomes. 

NC: Does that chime with you, Chris?

CS: It does, it just makes me think, you know, it, it’s wonderful that autonomy was able to be given, but it also says what a great job we’ve done of taking it away prior to that, and therefore, what we’ve seen a lot through the pandemic is people kind of saying, well, it’s amazing how well people have done. You know, they’ve had freedom and choice and they haven’t just slacked off and done nothing, they’ve actually been very good. Well, people chose to apply for a job in your organisation in the first place. They were motivated to do that, and how good a job did you do of maintaining the half life of that motivation through the way in which you engaged with them from the first? Or did you then kind of reduce it through micromanagement and processes and systems that lost the will to live, let alone get to work.

PT: I’m going to add to that if you want to, because there is an opposite to this which is where people lent in perhaps a little bit too much, and we heard about people doing, you know, 6:00am till 6:00pm days, 8:00am till 9:00pm, whatever it was, because they were so committed and wanted to show up and make a difference, they were literally on it for more than they were before. That wasn’t just the saving on commute, they were desperate to show something, that added value. 

So, I think to Chris’s point, it wasn’t the slack at all. I think we had to manage people who were over working a bit, and really, really, really pushing through. So, you know, so an early example was when people said, we’re all suffering Zoom fatigue. No, you’re not. What you’re doing is you’re trying so squeeze 2019 diary management through broadband pipes, and that’s not what it’s meant to do. So, we didn’t cull our meetings, we didn’t make them shorter and more punchy, we didn’t do asynchronous stuff, because we hadn’t learnt how to do that. We’re doing that now, and I don’t hear as much about Zoom fatigue now as I used to.

CS: For me, if I just come back as well to, we use three Cs for self determination, through control, confidence and connectedness. I think people’s confidence took a hit right away, because I don’t know how to do this and confidence then started to grow. Choice and control, we had our sort of personal freedoms taken away but we actually had a bit more, you know and we had different choices about how we worked and we had to work hard and being connected. So, you know, that big hit of motivation really, really, you know, started to get, then get made sense, as we then became more familiar, more in control, more confident, and, and we were connecting. But now we get the, we can go back and connect with our people, our colleagues, in the flesh, and now we can start to look at the upside of kind of choice over the sort of different working modalities. 

NC: But Chris Shambrook, given your connection with the UK rowing team, I mean, sport, it’s all about results, I’m rather interested that you, in your three Cs there, I mean, you didn’t really pick up on results, productivity.

CS: Yeah, I stopped working for the rowing team a couple of years ago, but having had 22 years in the Olympic environment, results are talked about occasionally but performance is focused on obsessively every day. So, you, the competition is about being the best at getting better, which is about improving your own personal best and then you test out, well, how did we do in the scoreboard once in a while, every four years at the Olympics. But the sporting world is obsessed with proactive performance development and equally obsessed with results. The commercial world is obsessed with results.

NC: So, Sally Hopper, during all this, have you learnt anything about how much emphasis there needs to be on people’s pay packages? On how they’re rewarded, because obviously that’s what motivates a lot of us, and how much there is on the softer stuff like rotating tasks, team working, mentoring, all that?

SH: So working in the public sector, pay has been a constant narrative throughout the last couple of years, and indeed, still the narrative continues, and I think that most people that come into the public sector do so with a huge sense of pride and a huge sense of wanting to do something right in their communities, and that is the absolute beauty and the privilege I’ve got of being the HR Director in a public sector body. 

During the pandemic, that didn’t dissipate at all, it was amplified, and we, for example, in Hertfordshire, opened eight vaccination centres, and we did it because it felt like a brilliant contribution to make at this time, and the motivation during that period and the sense of, you know, finding solutions to difficult problems was profound. Let’s hang onto that, you know, it was wonderful, and so I don’t think pay is what public sector workers get out of bed for in the morning, but having said that, it’s very, very important that we all have a certain quality of life and I know the CIPD does some excellent work on this, on good work, you know and that’s something that’s very important to get right when we think about motivation as well.

CS: I just think that’s a really beautiful example of the difference between the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation believers that often, so often get talked about in the theory, where intrinsically, we can find stuff that people connect with because they have personal meaning and there’s a sense of agency and they want to, that’s great, but extrinsically rewards will make a difference. Extrinsic rewards aren’t as high quality motivational factors, but they’re important hygiene factors, and if we can have the conversations that keep the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic factors on motivation, then we’re being honest, and that’s really important.

NC: I was wondering, Perry Timms, actually, how you start these conversations with people, because not everybody’s comfortable talking about motivation and all that.

PT: I think if we look at some of the data then, talking to your evidence trial earlier on, Nigel, lots of people are being asked the question, would you have a less intense job for less pay and choose your hours and so on? And more people are saying yes to that. So, I’m not diminishing pay as a significant factor, but it’s not as significant as it might have been in 2019. So, I think we’ve got to work with that. Yes, you have to entertain conversations and understand where people are at so you can provide the right support. I’ve just tabulated 40 pieces of research over the summer about this sort of thing, and in it, what people said is I want care, not perks. I don’t want loads of vouchers and stuff, I want to know that I can choose my hours and have time off to look after the family. Whatever it might be, I want care, not perks, so I think we’ve seen a massive shift in people’s expectations about what reward and recognition looks like, so I think we’ve got to respond to that. We started by listening, we test and experiment, adapt and then we start to replicate some of those things that really do work for people.

NC: And all that, Sally Hopper, can be quite difficult when the workforce are at different life stages, their demands and expectations are different. 

SH: Yes, so we’ve got some people that are under 25 that have joined us throughout the pandemic and are wondering what, why do I need to go into that thing called the office? You know, they don’t really understand or necessarily feel motivated by that, Nigel. But also, we have to be, across the whole of the public sector, we’re very cognisant of the fact that people are, it has focused people’s minds, as Perry says. You know, it has given people different ideas about their future, and we want to keep their skills in public sector because we’ve got some really highly skilled people. So definitely playing to people’s, back that that what I was saying earlier about the individual, everyone is an individual and you know, let’s not lose sight of that and make big generalisations that lose sight of people and complexity and individuality.

CS: I just think of Monty Python, we’re all individuals, I’m not. But anyway, so, but no, what I was thinking there as well, with the people who don’t see the need to go into the office, yeah, actually, when they are able to go and interact with other people, what’s going to be the reward of that? Because that, we’re going to get human reward here rather than financial reward and actually, being able to look at the different contexts and they are giving us the opportunity to fill different human needs, and from a motivational perspective, I can feel a sense of belonging in a different way. So, we’re looking to aggregate the influences of motivation, not have sort of just, but sort of switch on and off things.

PT: Yeah, just to build on that, for anybody listening who hasn’t found it yet, the Leesman Index is a terrific volume of research about workplace, about productivity and about what goes on there. Pretty much their conclusion over lots and lots of research, you know, 20,000 people surveyed over the last year, people, when they go to the office, have got to be able to go, what was the point in that? They’ve got to be able to answer that question. I think it talks exactly to what Chris said. Social cohesion, all the things that make a difference about humans in the same space, they do not want to be sat in rooms going through tick box exercises. 

Standard Chartered Bank have done lots of this at management level and said it’s created a different sense of connectivity between leaders and their teams. This is the stuff we want to come to the office for. The other stuff, whether it’s writing stuff of researching or even doing short meetings like this, absolutely, we can do that from home. So, I think we’ve got to get that rhythm and justification right.

CS: And I’ve been talking to people a lot recently about, you know, identifying those things, at work, can only be done with high quality, in the workplace, so people are kind of going I can’t wait to get in because I know this is why we’re going there, you know? It’s like so if, if I think of a heptathlete, they have to go to different bits of the stadia to sort of do their different events. So we’ve now got choice in the workplace, so what are the things that we do in certain contexts and not others? And if we can keep them really special. We understand performance and what that looks like in those different spaces and people increase their confidence and competence in those ways. We get a much more differentiated experience at work rather than being brought into an office to be scrutinised, to make sure that we’re not slacking off, which was fundamentally why it was there. 

NC: Absolutely, I certainly get all that, but having said all this, we have been talking so far as if, essentially, this is the HR manager’s responsibility, to find people who lack motivation and try and help them to achieve it again, but I mean, Sally Hopper, at the end of the day, isn’t this personal responsibility? I mean, just going back to the rowing analogy, you’re never going to win a medal if some mornings, you really can’t be bothered.

SH: Yeah, I think it definitely personal responsibility, Nigel, to get out of bed in the morning and love what you do.  That’s a great thing, isn’t it? But --

NC: Yeah, I think probably what I’m saying here is that actually, do you really, ultimately after what two years of a pandemic, need to identify the people who are chronically without motivation?

SH: They are presenting in, not in all cases, not exclusively, but there is a correlation with ill health. So, where that presents itself, we are focusing on that, and there can be a correlation between motivation and people’s overall wellbeing, so something that we will pick up on, if that, you know, is one way of identifying it. 

PT: We have to remember that we’re always in a system and it isn’t just about us trying to handle our motivation, it’s the system we’re in. And the line manager and people around you will help you understand the impact and the pressure that’s put on you by that system, and what your span of control is to make some changes and adjustments. HR’s role is to take that upper view of the system and go where is this failing? And try to put some actions into place that give people the chance to then start looking after themselves, but in the motivational sense. The system needs a lot of attention.

CS: Yeah, and, yeah, as Sally was talking, I was thinking about in the elite sport space, particularly endurance sport, where there’s the physical and psychological pressure combined, when you get both of those in, and they’re compromised, that’s when we typically have issues where there’s going to be of more ill health and certainly more immune sort of system disfunction. 

What was always interesting for me is that when you could sort of see that the motivation had been used up to get out of bed and to the training centre. That’s when you knew that things were starting to slip a little, because there wasn’t anything remaining then to actually sort of drive the rest of the day. I’ve got here but I’m done, rather then where motivation is in good quality, I can’t wait to get into the first thing today, and everything is drawing you forward and if we keep accepting that everyone is on a constant kind of journey of fluctuating motivation, we can then talk about some of those things that might be making it a little harder to keep the good quality but also identifying when things aren’t good and we can keep them, you know, keep supporting them and keep a strong foundation there.

NC: We do seem to have a consensus here that you can have a kind of culture of motivation, if you like, but as we draw this to a close, maybe a final thought from each of you on what you might do, one thing you might do to improve that in your organisation, maybe starting with Sally.

SH: I think the one thing that I’ll continue to do is to continue to empower the workforce to make some decisions for themselves. Not try to be too controlling, which I think can be a real motivation suppressor.

NC: And that, presumably, sometimes means managing your managers, who might be sceptical about that? Because local authorities of course are bound by endless rules for everything.

SH: Well, it’s quite easy at the moment, actually, because if we don’t get this right, the work, worker will go somewhere else that is getting it right, and that’s a very powerful thing to think about when we have skill shortages.

NC: Perry?

PT:  So, all of that, and I would say, if we’re looking for trails where people’s motivation is a bit lacking, they won’t be leaning into learning much, because they won’t have the motivation for that, so we can provide stimulus by encouraging learning, and learning in itself is a motivating factor. When you learn something else, as Chris said earlier, you get more confident, you tackle more things. So look out for those that aren’t learning and nurture them towards it. 

NC: There’s an excellent podcast about learning, just a couple of shows back, so have a listen to that if you haven’t done so already. And a final thought from you, Chris?

CS: Yeah, I think if it’s a culture of motivation, normalise conversations that contribute to a better motivational quality. So, and you can do that, you know, by kind of like regularly checking in, how in control are you feeling? How confident are you feeling? How connected are you feeling? And what can we do to keep each of those in good shape this week? And you know, where that’s normalised and that’s the norm, everyone knows that they’re contributing to helping the motivational glue between us stay really good, and, you know, I think it’s really just let’s normalise this stuff, you know? If, let’s be collectively curious about how good a quality of motivation we can build and maintain.

NC: Fantastic, well, I’m raring to go now. Thank you very much indeed to our fine podcast trio. Perry Timms, Sally Hopper and Chris Shambrook. A reminder as ever to subscribe wherever you get your podcast so you never miss an edition. As I have mentioned we really have some great guests, and easy yet stimulating listening to catch up on the people management issues of the moment. But for now, until next time, from all of us here at CIPD, it’s goodbye.